I did a lot of preparation for my birth. I wrote a long post about it and if you're considering getting pregnant and thinking about birth I would recommend you read it.
I have to say though that postpartum is the real game. It is very challenging on a lot of different levels. I decided to share my story so far and hope this will help other women to realign their expectations about what happens after the birth of your child. There are several things at play in the postpartum period. Some of them are psychological on an individual level, another one on a couple's level and then there are physical things related to the birth and also related to parenting.
On a physical level, of course there's the weight you gained during pregnancy. It doesn't go away magically and I started with this because I was lucky enough to be at my pre-pregnancy weight just a month after Lucia's birth.
After the birth, you'll have a belly which is probably the size of your belly at six months pregnancy. It starts going down and soon enough it will appear to be "almost normal" if you're lucky enough. For some people it doesn't happen like that at all.
The appearance isn't all though. In order to accommodate your little tenant, your abdominal muscles separate in a vertical line crossing your navel, creating a feeling of floppiness on your belly. This is known as diastasis recti. In some women, the gap is and remains as large as 4 fingers. For other, lucky ones, it starts very open and closes over time. Mine now is about one finger or a bit less now.
The skin on your belly will feel super soft. Mine still does not feel like it was before and maybe it will never be. I didn't know there was a term for it: the mommy pooch.
Besides that because of the effort during pregnancy and birth, your pelvic floor will be very weak. This will result in less than pleasant things to happen late in pregnancy but also after birth: sometimes it will be challenging to hold pee and poop and you'll end up wearing pads or panty liners for a long while. You'll need pads anyway because you'll bleed a lot. I spent 4-5 weeks bleeding. Now the bleeding is over but I still have discharge and have to wear panty liners daily. Fortunately I stopped peeing myself a couple of weeks after birth.
If you know me, you probably know that as far as "normal people strength" goes, I am a reasonably strong woman. I used to exercise at least 3-4 times per week if not more, with a combination of rock climbing, running, yoga and weight lifting. My pelvic floor is very weak right now. Carrying the baby around all the time reminds me of that. Friday last week I went for lunch at a market which is 45 minutes walking from our apartment (each way). Lucia wouldn't settle in the stroller so I took her on the baby carrier all the way there and back. I was sure that 7km with extra 5kg wasn't a big deal for me and it normally wouldn't be. But it is now and the pain I felt for the next several hours after getting back home was not fun. I also had to make stops on the way to rest a bit.
Since birth I have a feeling that my pelvic bones are sore and my pelvis feels very unstable. Lifting my pelvis from the floor in a simple exercise lying on my back makes it hurt. I asked other women about this and they say it will go away after about 3 months. It is interesting because you don't seem broken, and you don't feel broken most of the time, but then there are those pretty fragiles parts of your body which clearly are not in their normal state yet.
As I mentioned in my birth post, we have Gisela as our postpartum doula and she's been awesome to me. She's a yoga teacher with a lot of experience in prenatal and postpartum yoga. I could not recommend her enough, besides being here for me to talk out loud about my motherhood experiences and soothe me with a massage, she's been helping me to get some light exercises done so I can recover well and sooner. With her help, I do breathing and light exercises to strengthen my pelvic floor but also to move my upper body. I emphasize light here because light is all I can handle at the moment, despite being a reasonably active person in my pre-pregnancy life.
Besides that there's the bleeding which for me lasted about a month and had a terrible smell. Like... really bad.
Breastfeeding puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders and arms, because it is easy to bend over to help the baby to achieve its goal: reaching the boob, and doing it in a way that will create discomfort in the shoulders and pain in your arms. In addition, depending on the sleep arrangement you manage to achieve with your little one, you might not have a great head/neck position in the few contiguous hours of sleep you manage to get.
That's not to mention your breasts and nipples. I was lucky my nipples didn't crack and Lucia latched well so I didn't have much pain. But I know I am the exception. Throughout the breastfeeding period if you decide to breastfeed, you'll have moments your boobs will be engorged or that you'll have a plugged duct. I can tell you a plugged duct hurts comparably to giving birth. It's exasperating pain.
To summarize, do not take the 45 days postpartum as the recovery time. That is the start. After the 45 days you'll be ready to start physical recovery and build slowly your ability to be active. You won't be active after 45 days if you do any high impact exercise, or exercises that create unbalance in your pelvic area, such as...climbing.
On a psychological level I am sure each person is different, so take this as my own personal story.
Sleep deprivation is tough. The baby will wake up in the middle of the night and if you're lucky it will be just two or three times. At least one of those times will result in you being awake for at least one hour, maybe one and a half hours. And then just when your body gave in to being awake and your brain turns on, the baby sleeps, and you should too. It isn't easy to sleep on demand like that, and you'll be tired and will accumulate tiredness that will make you run near your psychological limit.
Over night, when you wake up and you have the feeling someone rubbed sand in your years, it is easy to get caught in negative chains of thoughts that include paranoia (is my baby alive? What if I drop her? What if I fall from the bed and she falls with me?). As I've been practicing meditation for quite a while, after a few nights of being caught on this chain, I noticed what was happening, acknowledged the thoughts and let them go. The nights feel extremely lonely. If you have a group of women who have babies around the same age, I really suggest you create a group chat with them. It is surprisingly reassuring and uplifting to your mood to have someone to chit chat over night while your baby is nursing, even though you wish you could be sleeping instead.
Besides sleep deprivation, you'll question yourself a lot. The questioning goes from "should I buy a yellow or a pink swimminsuit" to "is my baby ready for...(insert the thing of the day here, such as sleep training, sleeping on their crib, taking a pacifier, drinking milk from the bottle, sleep 4 hours in a whole). Your baby will sleep very little? You'll question yourself if you did something wrong. Your baby will sleep too long? You'll question whether you fed them enough and if they will just sleep to death silently starving.
You might have a baby that wakes up every hour overnight, and because of that you might ask yourself whether you did something wrong during the days. Or you might have a baby that sleeps overnight pretty well, but that cannot sleep in their own bed, or uses your nipple as their pacifier. You will then question yourself if it is too early to teach your baby new behaviors, such as sleeping in their own crib, or self settling, or question yourself whether the baby wants to be only on you to sleep because you're not insisting on that swaddle. Damn swaddle. When you decide to try their own crib, the baby miraculously falls asleep in 3 minutes instead of 30, and then you'll question yourself if you should wake the baby up to run your experiment, or if you should prioritize that they get the sleep to begin with.
Last, you'll feel like you have no control over your time anymore. Even though we are two adults in the house, sometimes I find myself squeezing in a shower just before bed, because the day has been otherwise so busy and who knows with what since you have done absolutely nothing the whole day. I have no time, but at the same time I have way too much time. Feeding Lucia, or with her sleeping on top of me, it is hard to even get to do things that require both of your hands, such as...opening a bottle of water or typing this post, which I have been doing for over two weeks now.
As a couple, the feeling is that your relationship is either transforming or on a pause. In our case Mark is sleeping in the living room and I sleep in the bedroom with Lucia. We figured that having one sleep deprived adult in the household was enough. Mark takes care of everything that needs doing in the house. From the garbage to the meals, shopping, cleaning and laundry. He not only prepares the meals, tea and makes sure I have water, but he also tries to remember which side of me he should place the bottle of water, or the plate, so I can reach for it with the one hand I have left because the other is under the baby. It takes practice.
I wish Mark and I had more time for the "normal things". Sometimes we watch a movie in the afternoon, and that feels nice. Usually it takes two or three sessions to finish the movie. Sometimes we manage to have dinner or a drink in the afternoon while chatting. The baby demands a lot of time. Mostly my time and sometimes his too, as he takes over the day diaper changes, some of the day naps and the responsibility of becoming a baby mattress :-)
It feels good when we do normal things, such as meeting people or just have a conversation that isn't about Lucia, her poop, can you bring me something, etc etc. We now pay more attention to not just living parallel lives inside the same household. It is easy to fall into that trap. I try to make a point of doing something with Mark every day to ensure we are interacting more. The feeling of loneliness shows up, in particular because our social interactions are mostly with each other because of the pandemic, and those are mostly about baby and day to day stuff.
I think on this last point, it is interesting to keep an eye at the end of the tunnel and make plans or talk about making plans once life looks a bit more "normal" and the baby isn't as demanding in the same way she is right now. Our lives' spotlight has definitely shifted from us into this cute little human, and it will take effort to re-adapt to this new reality, and find each other once again in this new reality.